There was nothing unique about Webb Simpson's final-round 73 on Sunday, but it clearly led to one of the most special wins of his career. Simpson did all the work over the first three days of the 2018 Players Championship with a 66-63-69 start and cruised home in the final round, thumping runners-up Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel and Jimmy Walker by four strokes, even with a double bogey on the final hole. It was as stress-free as massive victories like a Players Championship can possibly be. Just take a look at the leaderboard.
Still, there were moments where it could have come unraveled. Simpson three-putted the par-5 2nd for par. He certainly was not as aggressive or as bent on making birdies. For the first time all week, he lost strokes to the field from tee to green. But the numbers tell the whole story of Sunday for somebody who had a touchdown lead coming in.
- Fairways hit: 12 (he hit 46 of 56 on the week!)
- Par putts taken from over 6 feet: 3
The big key, until the final hole, was that par putts over 6 feet figure. He wasn't having to grind out 8-, 9- and 10-footers over the course of the day.
Simpson settled in after the three-putt and could not have been more impressive throughout. It was a different kind of impressive than the first three days when he blew away the field with world-class putting and an outrageous short game. But every time somebody behind him -- Jason Dufner, Tiger Woods, Jimmy Walker among them -- looked poised to make a run if Simpson slipped, he held them at bay.
"It was tough," Simpson told Steve Sands of NBC. "Being in that position is a lot harder than I thought. You always want to be leading going into the final round. You would think leading by seven is great, but it's hard to stay motivated to continue doing what you've been doing."
Simpson finished at 18-under 270 and fell well short of Greg Norman's all-time scoring record, but this was not a day to be chasing scoring records. Simpson knew this, and he played like it all day. The entire 18-hole stroll was little more than a coronation for somebody who hasn't won on the PGA Tour in nearly five years.
The primary storyline surrounding Simpson over the past few years has been his issue with the putter. While wrestling with how to move forward following the ban on anchored putters, Simpson has finished 174th, 177th and 88th in strokes gained putting over the last three seasons. This year, he's been much better. This week, he was elite. He finished No. 1 in the field in putting and gained nearly 10 strokes on the field (more than 50 percent of his total) with the flat stick.
There's a beautiful irony in that.
Webb Simpson last won in October 2013.— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) May 12, 2018
“I’ve shed tears out of frustration, and then I’ve laughed at myself for crying over golf.”
He has a five-shot lead at THE PLAYERS.
"I really wanted to do this for my mom," Simpson, who lost his dad last year, told Sands. "She's been praying for me. This was for her."
And now Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, has notched the second-biggest victory of his career. This one came in a much different manner than that one, though. In 2012, Simpson swiped the trophy when the leaders stumbled coming home. This week, he never went to sleep without at least a share of the lead. In that sense, this one has to be at least as satisfying if not more so. Of course after five years and so many ups and downs, all Simpson cares about is walking away with that trophy any way he can get it. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2018 Players Championship.
Tiger Woods (T11): Woods crushed on the weekend after a mediocre start. The big flip came with his big stick as he hit 22 of 28 fairways and gained two strokes on the field off the tee on the weekend. If this version of Tiger is posting those numbers off the tee, he's going to win multiple tournaments throughout the rest of 2018. Grade: A
Justin Thomas (T11): J.T. needed this thing to go about seven rounds to have a chance. He shot 73-70-68-66 and got better each day. The good news for him is that with that 6-under 66 in the final round, Thomas moves to No. 1 in the world, usurping Dustin Johnson's 64-week reign at the top. Thomas is just the seventh American to be the No. 1 player on the planet, joining Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Fred Couples, David Duval, Tom Lehman and Johnson. Grade: A-
Jordan Spieth (T41): The top-ranked player on the PGA Tour in Sunday scoring average stalled after a 7-under 65 on Saturday. He also had one of the more bizarre finishes you'll ever see. After nearly acing the par-3 17th, he made a quadruple-bogey on the par-4 18th that included a three-putt from five feet for a 2-over 74.
Still, he hasn't played very well at this track over the course of his career and it seemed important for him to jump-start the second half of his season with something on the weekend. A T41 finish won't look great on the resume, and that last hole was a borderline disaster, but considering he barely made the cut on Friday, it feels like he might be headed in the right direction (and I'm already picking him to win at Trinity Forest next week). "I'm on the right path now, and I really just wanted a weekend tee time here," said Spieth. "Every tournament round I play I feel like on the right path it's going to get better and better and better." Grade: B-
Phil Mickelson (MC): I didn't expect a ton from Lefty this week because he does not mesh well with this course, but his 79-73 was even worse than I thought it would be. Mickelson actually putted well, but every other part of his game was atrocious. He finished close to last in both strokes gained around the green and strokes gained on approach shots, which had been two relative strong points for him all season. He gets the "well, he hasn't played well at this course recently" pass to pair with his "well, he provided us with a ton of content with those hilarious shirts" pass, but I'm intrigued by the next few months. Grade: D-
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